Shimoda 1-6-8, Shimoda City
+81 (0)558 27 3330
As we enter our tenth month of existence here at Foodosophy, I’m reminded of one of the reasons why I accepted Foodosopher’s offer to contribute to the site (besides that fact that I was already experimenting with food photography) – I’m always on the lookout for new and good places to eat.
Taking a look through the various search terms that bring our viewers to our humble pages, I’m struck by the fact that I must not alone in having this interest. People are constantly seeking information and checking out commentary and reviews of places they intend to dine at, or perhaps at restaurants they recently have done so and are looking to compare experiences.
As good as online sources, published books, magazines, newspaper articles, etc. are at providing this kind of information, for me word of mouth plays a very strong role in deciding where I go to eat. Not just anyone’s opinion mind you, it has to be from a trusted source or from people that I feel that I have a similar set of food preferences and tastes with. Granted we won’t agree on everything, but for the most part we will, and its that comfort level that leads me to continue to rely on these sources.
But what do you do when you are without access to such sources, or had forget to check beforehand? When this happens when I am traveling, I go into a proactive mode and engage in conversations with unknown locals. Not the folks hanging around the popular tourist areas, or trendy neighborhoods. Nope, I prefer to go off the beaten track and seek out uncovered (at least for visitors) places that only someone familiar with the area would even know about or think of going to.
The thinking here being, the at-home, unpretentious natives would know the top tasting, modestly priced places that offer the best bang-for-the-buck. Often you get recommendations that are completely different from what the outside audience will say or can find in any written source… and that’s what I like most about this method.
I learned of one such hidden gem by working this strategy by asking a rugged looking man that I came across at a grassy park near the train station, who appeared to me as someone who was a fisherman or at least worked in the trade. Being that Shimoda (on the southern tip of the Izu peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean) is known for its beaches and its fresh seafood, I knew that I had to find a place that only locals would enthusiastically recommend amid all the restaurant offerings I could see around me.
After getting my pal to bribe him with some cigarettes, I was quickly given some brief instructions on how to find Uosuke, a place the man told me he and his buddies often go for meals after the morning’s work, which then turn into boisterous drinking sessions. Ah, the life of a man of the seas, gotta love it!
Despite the flamboyant decorations on the front entrance, from the colorful noren (the hanging cloth above the door that signifies they are open for business), promotional banners, and bold face lettering of the restaurant itself, inside it was a very subdued place. A long counter bar stretched along one side with seating for about ten people, mirrored by about four low tables set above tatami mats on the other. A large clearly typed menu enclosed in a plastic sheath was quickly handed to each of us as we sat at the counter, with three men dressed in bright whites standing by behind barrier that separated us from the kitchen side.
For those that know me personally, sitting at a counter in front of an open kitchen, bar, etc. is my favorite location. Sushi bars are the best for this. Maybe its because of the ability to see the process of how the food is being prepared, being able to interact with the chef, or the fact that you can just concentrate on the meal in front of you without having to see someone’s face directly across from you doing the same, I’m not quite sure. Conversation and great food, for me, some times do not go together – especially when I am famished and just want to eat! (SMILE)
Torn between what to order, I finally settled on the Aji Tataki Teishoku (finely chopped fresh aji fish, served over a bed of rice and accompanied by miso soup and some tsukemono) for 1,200 Yen. And yes, that bottle of Asahi beer is also mine.
The bright vibrant greens of the scallions and thin slices of Japanese leeks and grated ginger complemented the otherwise bland looking aji that had been pounded into smithereens. The almost gooey texture that results from being broken up into small pieces of flesh, reminds me of tororo (grated Japanese mountain yam) that is also another popular rice topping dish. The refreshing tones of the aji always works so well with ginger, and is one of my favorite combination of flavors. After splashing a dash of soy sauce on top, I quickly went to work in devouring the contents in this beautiful handmade bowl.
In addition to the fresh seafood items, Uosuke is also popular for their deep fried items, such as kushi-age, and tempura. A menu item allows you to get the best of both worlds with the Tempura & Sashimi Teishoku (2,000 Yen; which is about C$26 at today’s rate). I had a piece or two from the tempura plate, but I wasn’t overly impressed with it as it had a very light breading and was a tad over crispy (too hot oil?).
Obviously, Uosuke is not a tempura specialty place, and given the high standard you can find in such one-dish places in Japan, when you try to be everything to everyone, often you miss the mark. The interesting white swirl decoration was a unique eye-catching touch though.
I’d just seen a plating of sashimi over on another blog and it reminded me why Japanese food in Japan is so much better and also visually appealing, with the chef keeping in mind that the Japanese are know to “eat with their eyes”. Starting at the twelve o’clock position, I believe the contents were ika (squid), katsuo (skipjack tuna), maguro (tuna) Japanese leeks, kinmedai (golden eye snapper), amaebi (sweet shrimp), ikura (salmon roe), something that I can’t remember, and tamago (egg). And yes, what you see at bottom of the image is hon-wasabi (real freshly grated wasabi root), none of that artificial, chemically colored altered powdered wasabi/horseradish mixture that exists in basically every North American place serving sushi, and is what virtually all North Americans understand to be wasabi.
I was generously granted a small sampling each item in this bowl and all I can say is that it was incredibly fresh, and the epitome of what you want in great seasonal fish, caught locally and served the same morning it was brought to shore. I cannot put into words how vitally important this is with seafood, especially when eaten in raw form.
I have to thank that gruffy fisherman who gave me the introduction to Uosuke, as it really made my short time in Shimoda truly worthwhile. As scary looking as he was to approach, I knew I had to take the chance, and I am so glad the gamble paid off as handsomely as it did. My more hesitant friends have me to thank as well. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I hope the information provided on Foodosophy is thought of as being much more approachable, and just as thought provoking and insightful. Thanks again readers!